Haven’t had a moment to blog this week – so almost don’t know where to begin!
Parliamentwise – lobbies from the science community concerned about the looming Comprehensive Spending Review (everyone is worried in every sector to be quite frank) the argument forcefully put about investing in our future and cutting off our growth if we lose our cutting edge in science and lobbied in advance of the back bench committee debate on contamination of blood products.
I declare an interest in the blood products debate as someone very close to me has haemophilia and has been infected by the treatment given to him by the NHS. Although the motion itself didn’t pass – mainly because it had a price tag attached to it of £3billion and no government could just vote it through like that – it still succeeded in that a review of certain of Lord Archer’s recommendations in his Independent Report on the issue will now happen – and before Christmas. There are many aspects of life for those who have been infected additional to money: dentistry (has to be special because of bleeding and infections); insurance (can’t get life or travel insurance often) and other unfairnesses – such as those infected with Hepatitis C do not get compensation to match those infected with HIV. So – many wrongs still to be righted.
The ‘bonfire of the quangos’ saw many bodies axed. Two in my own department of Equalities were in line: the Equalities Commission (saved but will be radically reformed) and the Women’s National Commission terminated. The important thing about the WNC is that the function will continue (bringing the voices of women to government) and be expanded but using more direct techniques. I know a lot of women’s organisations will be upset by this – but after transition – they should be reassured that women’s voices will be heard louder and clearer and more directly than before.
I went to speak at the launch of ‘Communities, Councils & a Low Carbon Future’ – a new book out by Alexis Rowell – who is an amazing force majeure in terms of driving this agenda forward. Alexis was sustainability champion as a LibDem councillor in Camden – but has now taken to driving this forward in even bigger ponds. For anyone who knows Alexis – they will know that he is relentless in pursuit of the green agenda. There was a theme running through all the speeches about Alexis – that he was either a ‘pain in the arse’, ‘a pain in the neck’ or just a pain – but in a good way.
Alexis is so passionate that it colours every action and interaction he has. For example – going to a restaurant for dinner. What is the provenance of the meat, which farm, how farmed and what was the cow’s name! We are lucky that there is an Alexis – for without that force – things don’t change. Go Alexis!
Of course – tuition fees and Lord Browne’s report was probably the most contentious issue of the week. The report suggests that the cap be lifted which would result in fees going up to £6000 or more. The fear being that this will become an elite occupation for the haves – and those from middle backgrounds (just above the poorest who wil be protected) will be put off – or will only go to universities that they can afford rather than the very best ones which may charge as much as £12,000 per annum.
The ending of the principle of free education by Labour with the introduction of tuition fees was in my view definitely the beginning of the end. In the current economic climate – it was inevitable that the proposals by Browne (commissioned by Labour) would recommend removal of the cap – and both Labour and Conservatives would almost certainly have done so. For the Liberal Democrats it poses a real problem – to do with the totemic nature of a commitment ultimately to scrap tuition fees and a fundamental belief that education should be free for all.
Vince Cable, ironically, is the man in charge of any new proposals and he faced the House this week too. There is no doubt that he has been working flat out to make the proposals as progressive as is humanly possible – given that students will have to pay for their course. Poorer students will be protected, pay back is when earnings reach a certain level – and really importantly – part time courses will come into line. Previously they were not included and therefore it made it very hard for people who wanted to change their circumstances to afford to do part time courses.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies pronouncement was that “the proposed reforms to repayments are highly progressive and ensure that poorest 30% of graduates are better off than under the current system, whilst ensuring that the richest 30% of graduates pay off their loans in full.”
So – there is about six weeks to go before this comes to decision time. I still do not subscribe to the 50% target Labour set for university entrants. Mind you – I was a great fan of Shirley Williams’ polytechnics – which I thought a brilliant microcosm of the world with all sorts of people mixing on a variety of courses of different standards from degree – to HND. In fact – the first campaign I ever fought was to stop Oxford Polytechnic becoming a uni. I did well at the time – but left after three years – and of course – now it is Oxford Brookes University. I still think I was right!
So – the Liberal Democrats (including me) will have three choices: support the new proposals when finalised – which are just about as good as they can get in terms of being progressive; abstain (the coalition agreement negotiated this opt out as it would have been very hard to get LibDems to sign up to coalition without it) or vote against.
Lastly – have just come back from knocking on doors in Hornsey ward as part of our Liberal Democrat campaign for a 20mph speed limit on residential roads in Haringey. Everyone seemed very keen on this campaign – and more generally – still keen on the coalition despite the looming spending review.
Or vote against? Voting against means resigning from the government.
I am interested to know what you plan to do when you have to vote on the proposals for top-up fees. You’ve given no indication here and I’m keen to know how you made your decision when you’ve made it.
The review is reportedly to have suggested that funding will be available for specific languages, without providing any specification regarding which languages would be kept.
It is slightly disappointing given that Her Majesty the Queen had previously presented the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at SOAS with with a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, back in February 2010. The Faculty had been publicly recognised for the excellence, breadth and depth of its teaching in the languages of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Would you please provide some clarification regarding what proposals have been set in regards to retaining language courses?
we might be able to be ‘ reassured’ if you offered a bit of detail about this new, improved platform for womens voices – but hey -you’re not doing detail as a government are you, not working out what to replace things with before you get rid of them, which to most of us would seem like a sensible strategy. So please don’t be surprised when we say – Lynne, we don’t believe you.
What use was the Equalities Commission anyway, or your own department, for that matter? Stood by and did nothing when children born out of wedlock were called a “step into the unknown” by one MP, while another giggled out a who’s your daddy joke.
Had it been any other group treated in such a manner, they’d have thrown themselves under a bus protesting.
Many in the trans community will not be surprised that EHRC is being reformed. I would imagine this will result in more emphasis on enforcement.
On trans-related enforcement, I was told at a meeting with them earlier this year that ‘they might have taken on 2 cases, in the last year, related to trans but they were not sure’.
Can the first reform be to have a trans commissioner?
EHRC appears to undertake many ‘processes’ but none of these lead to ‘progress’ (certainly for the trans community). A clear definition of its mission is required and ‘measures of effectiveness’ devised against which its impact can be assessed.
I understand that the police are to be accountable to the people they serve. Why not use this principle for EHRC?
Lynne – your civil servants should have advised you of the real impact of the 2010 Equality Act on the trans community (how the possession of a GRC means nothing in certain circumstances, legalised transphobia etc, according to the guidance documentation). A reasonable person would agree that such documentation is consistent with the way the Act is worded.
I believe that you are ‘on-side’. What can the trans community do to support you in addressing the terrible problems that we face?
Perhaps the voters who elected you could be reminded what the Libdem’s pre-election stance was on tuition fees (and apparently still is!):
“Scrap unfair University Tuition Fees. To get a degree, young people are saddled with thousands of pounds of debt when it is tough enough to get a job, get on the housing ladder and make ends meet. The Liberal Democrats are the only party which believes university education should be free and admissions based on ability not bank balance. We will scrap unfair tuition fees for all students taking their first degrees saving them nearly £10,000 each.”
In one of your earlier blogs (Events) you rejoice at labour voters coming over to your side because of Libdem policies on “Iraq, PPP and tuition fees!” So, the LibDem policy on tuition fees was certainly a vote winner. Now, however, we are confronted yet again with a blatant disregard for anything you (LibDems) previously stood for – and there’s no need to remind us of the mantra about the black-hole left by Labour because this implies that there is no need for any politician to exhbit any true beliefs or integrity post-elections. This I find far more disgraceful than the expenses scandal, at least it is a further cause for public distrust of politicians.
From your comments I suspect that you have already justified supporting the Conservatives on tuition fees because what’s on offer “are just about as good as they can get in terms of being progressive;” Progreesive seems to be the new buzz word to justify everything – until of course, like the Budget, things are proved not to be progressive at all.
Apart from the tuition fees issue, what do you Lynne think about the way further education is being discussed ? When your co-Minsiter Dave “two-brains” Willets went to University do you think he started by wondering who would be the “best provider” for the “customer”. And did he he start by looking for “a positive teaching experience?” Somehow I think he might have had higher ideals and aspirations in mind – not this dreadful marketisation of universities which supposedly constitutes a higher education policy . A more informed debate about what constitutes University education is long overdue. If the main purpose is thought only to be a stepping-stone to a more lucrative job then something has gone badly wrong. And your defence of the Polytechnics (which the Cons got rid off) is something which many would support you in …
Perhaps inevitably the media report predominantly on what the impact of the Browne report will be on prospective students (customers!); What do you think Lynne about the impact on the actual Universities and what they teach ? It has been suggested that state support should be limited to the sciences. So, are the humanities a waste of time ? Is learning Mandarin or Arabic a waste of time ? And let’s not overlook the fact that one reason we lack good science graduates is because a large number went to work for the banks, lured by higher pay and bonuses.
The Coalition Government, in my personal view, is threatening to eat away the very soul of British Society. And the LibDems, who not so long ago were courageously standing on a platform proposing income tax increases to fund education, appear to be ilustartive of this process. When I heard Vince Cable discussing the contents of the Browne report my reaction was to call out Judas! It seems that the LibDems (maybe not all, but at least those in a ministerial position) have no beliefs that they are not prepared to betray. A suitable title for a recent history of the LibDems would be “For thirty pieces of silver …”
You haven’t replied to my email yet about Tuition Fees, but I’m glad to see you are thinking about it here.
Your personal pledge before the election was to “Vote AGAINST any rise in tuition fees”. You don’t outline above whether you are to break that pledge or not.